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Nicole Simmons, Project Co-Ordinator for the VSPT at Kyambura Gorge recently spoke at the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Summit in Namibia, focusing on the crucial work carried out by the VSPT in and around Volcanoes' Lodges. Below is a transcript of her moving and inspiring words:
Today I will be speaking at the ATWS about the VSPT and VS initiatives to connect local people to Great Ape tourism and by doing so make sure that they are its direct beneficiaries.
As an eco-luxury safari company operating in the developing countries of Uganda and Rwanda it is undeniable that there can be a chasm between how our guests experience Uganda and Rwanda and how local communities experience their country. So the question becomes: ‘How is great ape tourism contributing to the lives of local people?’ After all, they are the custodians of the great apes and the future of conservation – they must benefit.
And more and more, our conscientious clients also want to make sure that their safari is profiting the local people, and furthermore they want a connection with their fascinating, warm, and welcoming hosts. To this end, the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT) was born as a means of enhancing the livelihoods of local communities through Great Ape tourism and connecting our clients to these rich and ancient local cultures and people.
By focusing on the needs, wants and cultures of the local communities we developed a series of projects that allow them to live in better harmony with the wildlife, improve their livelihoods, and preserve the history of ancient cultures. In doing so, we found that these projects develop into “products” in a very organic and symbiotic way, allowing for meaningful and lasting connections that afford our guests the opportunity to connect with and contribute directly to enhancing the livelihoods of their local hosts
As VS Founder and Managing Director Praveen Moman stated so well, “Clients come for the wildlife, but leave with the people.”
This week we celebrate our partnership with the Gahinga area Batwa Community; an ancient hunter-gather culture that is rich in tradition. The Batwa made their home in the mountain forests of Uganda for centuries before being displaced in 1991 when many of these forest regions became National Parks.
An often marginalized and misunderstood community, the Batwa now struggle to preserve their cultural identity and to earn a livelihood outside of their traditional home. In an effort to help share the story of their tradition, the VSPT has created a Batwa Heritage site at the Mount Gahinga Lodge location. During an interactive culture and heritage tour of the site, the Batwa take visitors through a re-enactment of what it was like to live in the forest.
Through this experience, visitors learn alongside Batwa children what life was like for the people of the forest and, by doing so, help transfer this knowledge to the next generation around the world.
Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.